Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Oops! I forgot a buttonhole!" (part 6 of a TECHknitting buttonhole series)

Forgetting a buttonhole
In this post, the sixth in a TECHknitting series about buttonholes, we turn to correcting errors--what to do when you forget to make a button hole, but the buttonholes were supposed to be made "as you go."

Typical instructions for as-you-go buttonholes might look like this:
  • "...continue to decrease every 6th row at armhole edge, also remembering to work buttonholes as previously directed, and remembering also to work the six front edge stitches in garter stitch."
The trouble is, you might be so busy remembering about the armhole shaping and the garter stitch for the edge that the buttonhole might escape your notice.  Suppose you finish the whole front before you realize the error:  replacing the missed buttonhole now means a whole lot of unraveling followed by a whole lot of re-knitting. Discouragements like this are one reason why projects get abandoned, I think.

"I missed a buttonhole!"
Well, take heart! There are pretty good ways to fix this problem.  In this post we'll look at four variations on a trick for solving the missed-buttonhole problem without having to unravel anything. 

The heart of the trick
Underlying all four variations in this post is the same simple trick: sew a button down over each of the buttonholes already made, as well as over the spot where you missed making the buttonhole.*

The result will look just as if you had never made a mistake in the first place.  The buttonholes you did remember to make will be completely closed and completely covered up, so they'll become invisible, while the missed buttonhole is also covered up with a button, just like all the others.

Sew a button over the buttonholes you remembered
to make, as well as over the spot where you forgot to make one

However, as neat as this trick is, it leads to an obvious problem, namely, how to make buttonholes--or their functional equivalents--on the other side.

Variation 1: Decoration buttons with snaps beneath.
In this variation, the buttons you sew on are non-functional (decoration) buttons.  Best to use shank-less buttons (the kind with the holes through them, rather than the kind with a little stem or "shank" on the back).  Sew these decoration buttons on flat. Next, sew snaps UNDER these buttons.  Finally, sew the matching part of the snap on the OTHER front. VoilĂ --problem solved!

Decoration buttons sewn on over the already-made
buttonholes, as well as over the spot where the buttonhole
was missed.  Snaps then sewn under each button with
the corresponding snap-half sewn onto opposite front

On the upside, this is a very easy fix.  On the downside, snaps aren't usually very pretty, and can be seen when sweater is worn open. However, you can minimize this problem by using clear plastic snaps. (The snaps at the link are jumbo snaps, better suited to knitwear than the smaller snaps more commonly available.) Or, if you're feeling crafty, you might want to consider making cloth-covered snaps, which also look very well.

Variation 2: Functional buttons, switch sides for buttonholes
If you have not yet knit the opposite front, you can sew buttons on over the messed-up side, then knit the buttonholes when you do knit the other side, hopefully remembering all of this this time!  Remember that in this variation, the buttons are actual, working buttons, so don't sew them on flat.   Instead, use a shanked button, or a flat button sewn on with a thread shank.

If you haven't yet knit the other side of the garment
you can go ahead and sew the buttons onto the

messed-up side, then simply make the buttonholes
on the other side, instead
On the upside, this is an easy fix.  On the downside, switching sides changes the convention of button-placement-by-gender (men's garments traditionally have the buttons on the right band, women's on the left). This might be an issue for some, so heads up (!) on this potential problem.

Variation 3: Anchor buttons, hidden buttonholes
This variation is used under the same circumstances as variation 2:  when the opposite front has not yet been worked.  Like variation 2, the buttonholes are made in the as-yet-unworked front.  The difference between this variation and the one before it is that, when you sew each decoration button onto the messed-up side, you sew another button on underneath it.  Stated otherwise, each decoration button has a functional "anchor button" sewn onto the back of its band, shown in red on the illustration below.

It is this red hidden anchor button which does the actual buttoning through the buttonholes on the opposite band.  When the sweater is buttoned, the buttonholes are completely hidden.

 Each decoration button (green) is sewn
with an anchor button (red) underneath as shown
in the inset. It is this anchor button which is to
be pushed through the buttonholes made
on the other front of the garment.

On the upside, this preserves the gender orientation of the button placement. It also lends a mysterious couture sort of look to the garment: the button band appears to float because the method of closure is not obvious.

On the downside, it's awkward to button a hidden button into a buttonhole which lies under it.  You have to put your hand inside the garment to insert or release the anchor button from the hidden buttonhole.  Another downside is the bulk caused by stacking together the decoration button, the fabric of the buttonband itself and the anchor button.  Using very slim buttons, such as mother-of-pearl shell buttons can minimize this problem.

Variation 4:  Loop buttonholes
If variation 1 does not appeal to you because you don't like the idea of snaps, and if it's too late to use variations 2 or 3 because the other front has already been knit, a last variation remains available. In this variation, you again begin the cure by sewing buttons over the messed-up band.  Then, you make loop buttonholes along the edge of the other front.

There are two ways to make such loops buttonholes (shown in red below). You can either slip stitch a "chain" or use an I-cord attached along the edge.

Loop buttonholes (red) added along the opposite edge

The idea behind both kinds of loop buttonholes is the same: when you get to a position opposite where a button is sewn on, you detach the chain or cord to form a loose loop big enough to fit over the button--one loop per button.

Real life example of slip stitched chain loop-buttonhole
To see how to work a slipped stitch edge, have a look at this illustrated post (the post shows slip stitching along a garter-stitch edge, but the technique is the same regardless of whether the fabric edge is garter stitch or any other stitch). Remember to make a loose loop in order to create the buttonholes, whenever you get to the matching position opposite a button.

Below is a photo of a chain buttonhole in action, looped over a pretty little glass-rose button, on a lacy cotton jacket.

Slip stitched chain-loop buttonhole in action

As you see, the looped buttonhole was slip stitched onto a garter stitch band. (For a fuller view and description of this entire garment, you can go to its project page on Ravelry.)

Real life example of I-cord loop-buttonhole
Below is a photo of an I-cord looped buttonhole in action,  This particular I-cord was slip stitched on (same idea as the slip stitched edging, but the slip stitch was worked through both the I-cord AND the garment edge, from the front).  However, if the idea of combining I cord with slip stitch makes your head want to explode, you can attach the I-cord any way you like--sewing would be one simple way.

I-cord looped buttonhole in action

 Just remember to leave the I-cord loose of the edge, wherever the loop-buttonhole should go.

* * *
*Does the trick of sewing a button over a buttonhole look familiar to you?  It's actually a variation on a trick for baby sweaters, where you make buttonholes on both sides of a baby sweater, then sew the buttons down over the unneeded buttonholes once you know whether the new arrival is a girl or boy (scroll to third paragraph at link).
* * *
Good knitting! --TK


Jennifer Crowley said...

I always love your different skill posts, which I think are really helpful. I had heard about that trick for baby sweaters.

I don't suppose you know why the gender orientation for shirts/pants goes in different directions for men and women?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Jennifer--The reason is because at some point in history, women's clothing got so elaborate that their buttons were switched to the other side, to make it easier for a right-handed assistant to button them into their clothes. The unintended consequence was that women's clothes got even harder to get into for the wearer, herself! There is more buttonhole lore and information at this post (the first in this series).

(cut and paste into browser window)

Best, TK

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Zimmerman also has an "afterthought buttonhole" in her "Knitting Without Tears" which I have used successfully. It requires snipping and binding off with a sewn bind-off.

Thank you so much for your great posts!

My wordpress is's new captcha ~never~ works when I try to sign as my Wordpress "identity." So here's the ersatz! :-)

Anonymous said...

I was just going to mention EZ as well! Snip it and fix it.

"I truly am the boss of my knitting." Best attitude ever.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Sewtigersew and Anon: Although your mileage obviously varied, when I tried the EZ buttonhole I found the ends too short to work in with any satisfaction--they always came out again, requiring me to buttonhole stitch over the opening. Perhaps if I'd made longer (more stitches) buttonholes, the ends would have been correspondingly longer and easier to work in? Be that as it may, I do have another afterthought buttonhole which requires no snipping, and someday will do a post about that.
Best, TK

Suzanne said...

You were mentioned on Knitcircus's latest podcast. They sung your praise and I highly agree with their review.

The buttonholes fix you discuss here is perfect for me. I have a sweater coat that I knit the buttonholes in but wanted to use larger buttons. I knew about the anchor buttons. (Thank you for replying to my question about that in your comments.) I found as I was sewing buttons on, though, that the placement was not even. I never thought about sewing the holes closed and using snaps. That solves my problem. Thank you!

Suzi said...

Thanks for this series on button holes. I'm about the embark on my first buttony adventure, so I'm feeling more prepared now.

On the baby sweater issue, the thing that breaks my overly pedantic brain is:
No baby is dressing itself!!!!!!

If the buttons are/were for ease of dressing, then for babies it should always be one side, regardless of gender. Overthink things? Me? :P

New York Built said...

Your addition of this post reminds me of the wonderful episode of Julia Child dropping the meticulously cooked meal on the floor, and the ethical, technical and social thought process, with various options and honesty coordinates added to the solutions at hand.

Well done, as always!

Katy C said...

I found this post when I was looking for an alterntive closure for a cardigan that is supposed to have hooks and eyes sewn along the front edges. I see too much potential for that to look messy. However the hooks are only supposed to be in the bust section so I wouldn't need the chain to go all the way down the sweater. Would it be possible to do the chain from the inside so it would be less visible where I stopped? The pattern is Nantucket Red by Thea Coleman. Thanks!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Katy C--I don't see why your idea wouldn't work! TK

Michele Sant'Ana said...

Hi! How are you?
Your blog and posts are wonderful, i really loved it!
Best wishes and see you soon.

Anonymous said...

thanks techknitter, you have saved my just finished baby cardigan! I forgot the first two button holes :( and decided to carry on, confident that someone out there in internet world would have a solution for me! Thanks, I am going for the chain down the front option.

Beads2yarn said...

You're so amazing, and your sharing is truly wonderful. It would be so great to have your blog in book form. Thanks bunches for taking the time to share.

norma cross said...

thanks for all the buttonhole fixes. i would love to know if this afterthought is posted anywhere.

"Be that as it may, I do have another afterthought buttonhole which requires no snipping, and someday will do a post about that."

TECHknitter said...

Hi Norma--I do have that buttonhole, and one day, when I get off this color knitting kick I am on, I will show how to do this buttonhole. In the meanwhile, if you are near Atlanta GA, I think I am teaching a class there in March which includes this trick. Or, if you are near Madison WI, send me an e-mail, and I could meet you and show you. Best, TK

Leah OConnor said...

One word... frog. Buy some at a fabric store or make them with I-cord.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Leah--when I first read your comment, I thought you meant TO frog (verb, the action of ripping out your knitting). Had to read that a couple of times before I got that your meant to sew on A frog (noun, the oriental version of a clasp). Gotcha. Yes, a great idea. Here is a post about frogs, clasps and other buttonhole alternatives...

(Cut and paste linky into browser window--sorry I don't know how to do live links in the comments.)